Could you write non fiction?

The world is full of aspiring (and perspiring) writers. With word processing and easy self publishing, thousands are pounding away on keyboards everywhere. Most of these efforts are fiction, and many of them are mysteries with plucky sleuths that run an antiques shop, a bakery, a book store, or a quaint restaurant. Many are senior Sherlocks, retired and living an otherwise dull life in a retirement community.

Now there is nothing wrong with writing fiction, and if you are Steven King, it can make you rich, but I have talked to several fiction writers who had an itch to write non fiction, but were intimidated by the prospect. “It’s too demanding,” they say. “There’s too much research; I’d never get done.” “I just want to be able to make everything up.”

The idea that fiction gives you complete artistic freedom to write as your fancy takes you and non fiction is a straightjacket is a common one, but it isn’t true. Of course non fiction requires more research and cross checking than fiction, but they are not as far apart as you might think. If you don’t believe it, try writing a “fictional” historical novel. The fact is, if you are presently writing fiction, you are already writing non fiction as well.

Say what?

Consider this. If your fiction has characters, they must look and act as real people/animals/etc. Unless you are writing the most far out fantasy, none of your characters will have two heads, or be twenty feet tall, or be able to fly. They will resemble real humans and have real human characteristics. Even fantasy characters such as Superman or E.T. have human emotions and responses to situations. You can invent a fictional town for your characters to live in, but the town must be recognizable as based on real-life towns everywhere. The people will live in houses and not balloons, and there will be streets, a post office, etc. Furthermore, the characters must interact in believable ways that the readers recognize from their own experience. Your characters must be true to their own time and place as well. You can’t have a Civil War southern belle talking on a cell phone, or  have Custer riding to the Little Bighorn in a  Corvette. In other words, for fiction to work, it must be believable, and to be believable, it must be solidly grounded in non-fiction.

SO there is no getting around the need for research and cross checking facts, no matter what you are writing, so if you really want to write non fiction, go ahead. After all, you are already doing it.


If you are really serious about writing of any kind, and live anywhere near Maryland’s Eastern Shore, you might want to consider attending the Bay to Ocean Writer’s Conference on February 22 at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, Maryland. I will be teaching the segment on non fiction writing, but there will be plenty more available. Here is the website:

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